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The Cool Mom Picks Safer Toy Guide 2007

The editors and writers of Cool Mom Picks have been pointing our readers towards better (if we do say so ourselves) plaything options since day one. Which isn't to say that we weren't affected when 2007 became "The Year of the Recall." Our kids have their share of mass-produced plastic crap too.

So since the news hit, we've dedicated many hours to tracking down some of the best handcrafted, locally made, organic, fair trade, or simply safer alternatives for younger children--for you, for us, for all the grandchildren and nieces and nephews of the world. We want you to know that safer doesn't mean boring, and handmade doesn't mean rustic.

The picks here are entirely, as always, totally 100% without a doubt advertorial free. Just the stuff we love from sites we trust. Speaking of which, we've done our best to ascertain that the manufacturing process of anything you see here is something we feel confident recommending.

There's not a shop or an artisan represented here that won't stand behind their products.

Now here's to hoping that soon we can all go back to our regularly scheduled worrying about kids watching too much TV or eating the cat litter.

If you're digging our toy guide, help us spread the word by telling friends or putting a CMP Safer Toy Guide button on your website or blog. We'll be your best friends.

And don't miss all the discount codes at the bottom of our guide!

Thanks to a busy holiday season, many of our featured items are sold out, but don't fret. They'll be restocked in the new year for all of your other toy-giving occasions.

Teething

Nothing freaks a parent out more than the idea of a less than safe rattle or teether. If you have even an iota of concern, ditch the plastic in favor of these far superior options. Your baby won't disagree, we promise.

*Made in Vermont from natural maple, the rattles at Until Kara are delightful - and safe when they inevitably end up in little mouths.

*It's a doll...and a rattle. Rainbow Babies are made in Germany of beech wood and luscious cotton velour.

*Will hand knit veggie rattles instill an early love of cauliflower? Worth a shot, and they're super cute to boot.

*Feel free to let your kid gnaw on a hammer--provided it's a part of Yellow Label Kids' tool rattle set, hand knit by a fair trade collective of women.

*Netherlands-based Ann Claire Petit is becoming fast known for colorful and elegant hand-embroidered baby items including rattles shaped like flowers (shown) and dumbbells. We found them at Nonchalant Mom.

*The organically shaped Cheery Rattle is beautifully hand crafted from cherry by the artisans of Camden Rose.

*Oompa has a wonderful selection of Euro-made rattles we trust, like Haba's modern Salto rattle or the organic cotton and wool Keptin Jr rattle/doll.

*If your prefer ringing to rattling, you'll love the natural Sage Creek rattle made of sustainable maple.

*For decades, the super cute and squeaky Sophie Giraffe teether has been a fave of moms in France. Rubber? Yes. But handmade rubber, decorated with vegetable paints. Find it at Craftsbury Kids.

Toddling

Push and pull toys are excellent additions to a toddler's toy chest. If your first thought is to look for them at the big box stores, we're hoping to make you reconsider.

*We love all the hand-carved goodies from RI-based Stump Pond Toys, like the hopping rabbit toy (shown) with sweet details like leather ears.

*Buh-bye big red dog - this dragon pull toy from Our Greenhouse is way cuter, and was handmade in the US by a master German woodcarver.

*We love these beautiful German-made butterflies at Nonchalant Mom that flap their orange and yellow wings when pushed across the floor.

*French company Djeco's colorful Chacha the Cat will never be confused with Cha-Cha, Barbara Walters' dog.

*Nova Natural has a terrific selection of artisan-made push toys, like the lawnmower which brilliantly replaces the mass market plastic version.

*The handmade Pastel Toys Retro Walker with Blocks at The Silly Wagon is both a push toy and a set of blocks. And check out the big version for toddlers with bigger loads to haul.

Both are handcrafted by a collective of developmentally challenged artisans.

*For kids who are serious about their push toys, the Flix Push Car from Sirch is handmade in Switzerland and makes a very special (i.e. $170) gift.

Building

When you're stacking blocks up and knocking them down 400 times a day like our kids do, it definitely matters what those castles and towers are made of. Hold the lead.

*Soft, handcrafted Jingle Blocks at Craftsbury Kids make an excellent little set of baby's first blocks - otherwise known as toy to suck on.

*Colorful, German-made Sticki blocks (shown) are sort of like Legos made of maple. Simple and cool.

*Future architects: behold interlocking wooden blocks, made by hand by adults with disabilities at Camplake Village in New York.

*Really want blocks like your great-great- grandparents might have played with? Check out the tree branch blocks at Natural Pod for the ultimate in old-fashioned coolness.

*Sakol blocks at Sparkability are a really unique concept, made of nothing but natural wood and, of all things, velcro.

*At Lala Natural we found European HERO's big set of wooden blocks featuring bright, non-toxic colors. There are 75 pieces so when you lose half of them, it's not so bad.

*Haba's ghost tower/fairy tale castle (read: for boys and girls) lets kids create their own magical stories instead of recreating ones spelled out for them by movie studios. Two thumbs up.

Vrooming

Boy or girl, no child should be without a collection of "things that go" to leave all over the floor and nearly kill you when you're cleaning up. (Okay, so they're safer for the kids if not the parents.)

*Fagus makes heirloom quality trucks and heavy machinery made out of interlocked beechwood. Digging the the firetruck big time.

*Vilac, based out of France, does great primary-colored little cars that kids can't get enough of, as well as fun little 3" 1-2-3 racecars in swell pastels.

*At Nonchalant Mom we found Scandinavian company Playsam, which makes chic, sleek, safe little things that go including a streamlined jetliner and a special edition silver racer.(shown)

*Walnut, birch and hard yellow pine come together in a funky hand-carved airplane from Stump Pond.

*Dreaming of serious race cars? We love these organic wood Ferraris and Bugattis, made in Finland. (In case you were thinking Italy.)

*Bathtime gets more fun (and safe) when you ditch the plastic boats in favor of pine sailboats carved by Maine's Different Drummer Workshop, available at Greenjeans Brooklyn.

*The handcrafted maple, cherry and walnut hardwood train from Camden Rose is a toy and a keepsake. It may not have a licensed character guiding the way, but at 6" tall and 40" long it will make ten times the impression.

Rocking and Riding

From rocking horses to toys that get preschoolers from room to room, not one of the following picks requires batteries. Bonus!

*The Silly Wagon has a wonderful selection of old-fashioned but very cool handmade goodies from Pastel Toys like the Hamptons Rocking Horse (shown).

*Also check out the Pastel Toys cool toddler "scooter" for when your kid is actually ready to go somewhere when he hops on for a ride.

*Svan (of course) makes great bent plywood (of course) ride-on toys that beat any garish plastic version on the market. And the amorphous shape means your imaginative kid can make it a train, a boat, a plane or a llama--or all of the above.

*The Rocking Dory is like a rocking horse for future yacht owners. A mother can dream, right?

*Plan toys makes a beautiful looking, eco-friendly wooden rocking horse (an Arabian no less) and the price is unreal - just $49.99 (also at Discovery Channel Store)

*On the other side of the spectrum, the Sibi Olga rocker at Sparkability is a work of art at $265. You'd almost hate to let your kid ride it, although we dare you to try and keep her off.

*Wooden toddler bikes? Absolutely. Check out the Rolli Rider at Lala Natural, or the LIKEaBIKE at ebeanstalk--no metals, no pedals.

*Netto's polar bear rocker at Shop Genes is insanely adorable, even if it will set you back a good chunk of change. How much? As they say: "If you have to ask..."

Pretending

Playthings that inspire imagination may be our most favorite of all. There are so many safer and more aesthetically pleasing options than what you find in your average toy aisle, it was hard to narrow them down!

*Rumor has it, natural wooden doll houses shelter little dolls just as well as the ones from the big box stores, and with fewer asbestos scares. (Ha.) We love this one from Our Greenhouse.

*Furnish that doll house with some European-made wooden furniture (Selecta's music set is to die for!) and you're golden.

*This felt mail set is made of felt, and helps teach kids that not all correspondence requires an internet connection. Imagine!

*Fake food is essential around our homes! For diet-busting options, we're drooling over this chocolate cake at Mahar Dry Goods and these yummy fake edibles by Lilly Bean. And Craftsbury Kids has a beautiful wooden stove finished with non-toxic paint to make sure it's "cooked" before serving.

*There are no chemicals in the natural woods that make up this engaging circus set from Plan Toys (and hopefully your kid isn't scared of clowns).

*ImagiPLAY's "toys with integrity" feature amazing rubberwood playsets of safari animals, astronauts, a day at the rodeo, and a toddler-pleasing farm set.

Nice improvement on the plastic versions.

*Got a budding princess or prince on your hands? Behold: Beautiful crowns of wool felt, or handknit in golds. We even found a wooden star wand of maple and sparkles with just as much magical capability as the cheap plastic ones.

Cuddling

From baby dolls to stuffed animals, we've got you covered with choices that are not likely to be seen in their own animated series any time soon.

*For the littlest cuddlers, consider plush music boxes like the bunnies from Esthex, or the sweet organic lamb.

*Green Little Beans can hook you up with a handmade Little Flower Girl Gift Set that will make ovaries ache. If someone special in your life is expecting a baby girl, jump on this.

*Pouchy Dolls made of soft wool, velour and flannel and make super cute (and inexpensive) first birthday gifts.

*For dolls your kids will quite literally grow into, we love the huge handmade Bamboletta dolls from a Canadian mom, available at Mahar Dry Goods and Natural Pod. They're expensive and worth every penny - even the clothes are handmade and can be custom-ordered.

*The stuffed giraffes at Wren Handmade are beyond awesome - nearly a foot tall and crafted from wonderfully surprising fabrics. If your kid wants a little more to love (so to speak), check out the elephants.

*Boston-based The Sweetest Pea makes whimsical, colorful, roly-poly stuffed fleece animals to order including sheep, penguins and lovable monsters.

*Israeli artist Galia Chai's Ella and Eli Elephants are heirloom quality but still durable. Babar pales in comparison.

*Lana Organic is a Dutch company making super cute plush geese, bunnies, and other animal friends(shown) out of eco-friendly cottons.

Music-Making

When your kids are ready to upgrade from banging on the mixing bowls with spatulas to some actual instruments, you cannot beat these picks. At least until it's time for a real drum kit. (God help you.)

*Before your kid sticks a harmonica in his mouth, do you know where it's been? This one hails from the Phillipines, strictly supervised by respected Italian company Tatiri. (And, it's beautiful!)

*The solid drum from Plan Toys at ebeanstalk is a must in any kid's musical repertoire. Earplugs not included.

*No kid can resist a xylophone. We found three we love: A beautiful handmade wooden, circular Auris Stir Xylophone which made the long journey from Sweden for your kid's banging pleasure. For something more colorful, check out the brilliantly colored xylophone (shown) from Italian toymaker Tatiri at Oompa, or the one from countrymen, Sevi, at Moolka.

*Kids will not be able to put down the beautiful hand-carved train whistle - perhaps it's best to give it to them outdoors (says the moms)?

*We are smiling, big time, at the eco-friendly, rubber wood animal instruments from Zoo Toys. As far as kids are concerned, it's hard to go wrong with a hippo tone block or a camel bell.

*It doesn't have to be Spring for a cherry Waldorf Spring Lyre from Palumba. This is one for seriously musical families. For the rest of us, stick with Palumba's wooden kazoo.

DISCOUNT CODES! (There's always got to be discount codes)






  • Sparkability: Free ground shipping on orders of more than $100 through 12/31 with code cmp1007


  • Palumba: 5% off through 3/1/08 with code coolmompicks


  • ebeanstalk: 10% off single toys with code coolmom10%, 15% off gift series with coolmom15%

  • Twig: 15% off all orders through 12/21 with code CMPHOLIDAY07



  • The Sweetest Pea: Free shipping through 1/31/08 with code SPCMP07 (Enter code in the "message to seller" box on checkout and your shipping cost will be refunded.)

  • Nonchalant Mom: Free shipping through 12/31 with code coolmompicks (Enter code in the comments section.)


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